Growth laws aggravate sprawl, research says


Growth-management laws in more than half of Maryland's counties - including much of the Baltimore region - are being misapplied by local officials in ways that inflate housing prices and aggravate suburban sprawl, according to a study released yesterday by University of Maryland researchers.

Thirteen Maryland counties, four of them in Baltimore's suburbs, have enacted laws intended to keep new development from overwhelming schools, roads and other government services, the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education reported.

But in many counties, the so-called adequate public facilities ordinances have become de facto building moratoriums because the needed infrastructure has not been built, said the center's report, which was underwritten by home-building industry groups.

Even worse, researchers said, the measures are diverting new housing from areas designated for development under Maryland's pioneering Smart Growth law, which was adopted a decade ago in an attempt to curtail suburban sprawl.

Facilities ordinances in Harford, Howard and Montgomery counties, in particular, deflected elsewhere as much as 10 percent of the new housing that might have been built in those counties' designated growth areas, the study said.

While Maryland's 1996 Smart Growth law attempts to steer new development to existing urban areas to preserve open space, adequate facilities laws seem to be frustrating that intent, said Gerrit Knaap, the research center's executive director.

Temporary bans on new housing imposed by the facilities laws often become protracted because schools and roads are not expanded to accommodate the additional people, Knaap said.

"It makes it easier to develop out in the rural areas, where there isn't the congestion in [public] facilities," he said.

David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said he had not seen the report. But he said local officials are limiting new residential growth in response to their constituents. "Citizens do not want their children being educated in portable classrooms, and citizens do not want to spend hours sitting in traffic going back and forth to work, or to do their daily chores," Bliden said.

Many counties lack the funding to provide all the facilities their population needs, he said.

"The question is, who's going to pay for it," Knaap said. "Nobody's willing to pay for it."

David Flanagan, president of Elm Street Development, a Virginia-based firm that has built housing in Maryland, said that with housing construction limited in much of the Baltimore and Washington areas, he's building on the Eastern Shore and across the state border in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"When they shut those areas down," he said of suburban counties barring new development because of crowded schools or roads, "people get in their cars and start driving. ... It's dumb growth."

Dan Pontious, regional policy director for the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, said facilities laws are not bad but have unintended consequences.

"These ordinances are popular because they curb one form of bad planning, which is dumping growth in an area without thinking about the infrastructure," he said. The only solution, he said, is for officials to collaborate on regional planning for housing and the needed infrastructure at the same time.

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